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Bringing Home a Post-Surgery Shelter Pet

We have fostered around two-hundred dogs and a few other species in our home over the past six years and we were not always experts. We used to question ourselves when we brought home the newly spayed or neutered animal. Where should the animal sleep? Why is it whining? Is it scared, hungry, in pain? How do I help it adjust? Was this a mistake?

However, now with a little knowledge under our belts we have a system down pat.

Firstly, when your shelter pet comes home, the majority of the time, it has just been mandated by the state that it be spayed or neutered. Some shelters do the surgery on their premises. For instance, in Los Angeles, the county shelters have an onsite surgical center. However, the city shelters contract out the sterilizations to various veterinary hospitals. All the vets have their own “style” when it comes to incisions.

Basically, the castration of a male dog or cat, while much less invasive than the hysterectomy of the female dog is still painful and your animal, male or female, cat or dog, will have some post op pain as well as possible nausea including the after effects of anesthesia. It is important to bring a towel or soft blanket in your car when you pick up a your dog (and a collar and leash of course) or comfortable cat carrier, and remember to drive gently; think of how you would feel if you just had abdominal surgery.

The clinic will give you directions on post surgical care including when to feed the animal and keeping the incision dry. Sutures need to be removed back at the clinic unless they are specifically informed that they are dissolvable. Some vets will give you a pain pill for the animal for the following day, but if they do not provide one, don’t be afraid to speak up and inquire about one. The clinic may charge you a small fee for the medication, but you don’t want your new furry friend to suffer.

When you arrive home, if you have a dog, allow him or her to relieve him or herself and then lead the animal to a warm, quiet, dark room with a soft bed. Don’t bother the pet except to pet her and reassure her. Later you can offer some water and then small amounts of food, Do not let children or other animals upset her now, He or she will most likely be drowsy. Many animals do cry but usually it is due to the anesthesia. If the animal really does seem to be in pain then call the vet. Better to be safe than sorry. Also, if the vet is “old fashioned” and has used staples on the incision, then look and see if one of the wires is stabbing her abdomen, the doctor will need to bend it in a different direction.

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Another concern is the “cone” or Elizabethan collar that is placed on the dog to prevent her from licking her wounds. It is very difficult for the dog to become comfortable on top of everything else with this cumbersome item shielding her head. We always remove the cone, and allow the dog to at least see her incision and sniff the area so she knows where her pain is coming from. Then, we do not allow the dog to lick the area whatsoever or else the cone goes back on. If you can keep a close eye on your pet and she is not licking the incision, you can keep the cone off and let her get some sleep in comfort, but keep a vigilant eye out. At least remove the cone when the dog eats and drinks. Occasionally other pets in the household are afraid of the cone so remove it when introducing the new pet to the family. Another alternative is to anticipate the surgery and purchase a flexible soft recovery collar that is bendable and allows the dog much more flexibility and comfort and make a world of difference.

If your pet refuses to eat or drink that evening, don’t be worried, she is still recovering and should eat the next day. Don’t push food, there is nothing worse than vomiting after abdominal surgery. Check on the animal every so often to make sure she is not afraid of her new surroundings, and perhaps if she is small enough, CAREFULLY and gently lift her without pulling her abdomen outside to relieve herself once again. The next day, a pain pill, wrapped in turkey or a piece of cheese and a slow walk for a few minutes (on a leash if off your property of course) will do wonders. Just don’t let small kids pick up the pet and don’t encourage jumping until healing has occurred. (we have a doggie staircase that leads to an ottoman that leads to our bed for times like these)

And remember, if you have any questions, call your vet. That is what they are there for.

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